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Merpig’s Advice for Helping Young Children Dealing with Death

golda Nudleman in the 1930s. my grandmother

Merpig’s Advice for Helping Young Children Dealing with Death

When I was six years old my grandmother committed suicide. I was the last person to see her alive. She dropped me off in Beverly Hills where we were house sitting and gave me her costume jewelry box and drove away in her big sedan. When she got home, she got into bed and took a big glass of water and a bunch of sleeping pills and went to sleep never to wake up again.

My mom was angry and upset because my grandmother had messed up the financial affairs and left us without any money to live on. Nana, as I called her, had defaulted on the loan for the apartment building she owned, and our relatives had swooped in to take everything.

My mom didn’t have time to help me process anything. She never learned how to process her own feelings of loss and anger about the situation. And she didn’t really know how to talk about feelings in general. I wasn’t allowed to come to the funeral or have any way to say goodbye to my Nana. I was sad and confused for a long time.

I asked my mom where Nana’s body was while mom was making the funeral arrangements. Was she still at home in the bed where she had taken sleeping pills and never woke up? My mom shook her head and said Nana’s body was the doctor’s office. This confused me and I pictured my grandmother, still in her frilly nightgown and fluffy slippers, propped up like a statue staring blindly with dead eyes behind the receptionist near the front desk.

If mom had told me the body was at the morgue, I would have remembered this from seeing movies with morgue scenes, since I had seen the movie Black Orpheus which had a vivid scene at the morgue as a metaphor for the underworld. But mom didn’t want to explain the morgue to me and didn’t remember that I already knew what that was from the vivid portrayal in the movie.

Merpig’s advice is to let kids come to the funeral or take part in ceremonies and rituals in some way and allow the child to be sad and grieve. Allow them to cry and show emotion and talk about the dead person as needed.

Use the word dead when you talk about the person or animal that has died and explain things with real terminology. Don’t say the person has “passed away,” “gone to heaven”, “passed,” “kicked the bucket”, “is gone” or other indirect terms.

Talk about the person or animal as being “dead”. It is confusing to young children when you use euphemisms instead of being direct. They might think the person is going to return from heaven or from “passing” or they will come back and kick some more buckets. They need to know and deal with the fact that the person is gone and isn’t coming back.

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